To step into the discreetly illumined rooms of the major new Byzantine exhibition at the Met is to experience, with a gentle shock, some of the wide-eyed wonder which early visitors to the court at Constantinople felt well over a millennium ago.1 When the priest Liutprand of Cremona, serving as an envoy from a Western potentate, had an audience with Constantine VII in the year 949, he was amazed to see the Byzantine emperor suddenly hoisted skyward on his throne by means of some hidden mechanical device and, indeed, to such a height that poor awed Liutprand could not converse with him. Moreover, as he tells us, “before the emperor’s seat stood a tree, made of bronze gilded over, whose branches were filled with birds, also made of gilded bronze, which uttered different cries, each according to its varying...


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